This coming spring, people across the nation will be filling out the census and thanks to a new committee, Williamsburg is hoping for more responses than ever.
“We want people to know how important the census is,” said Betsy Fowler, library director for the Williamsburg Regional Library. “The government completes a population count every 10 years and data from the [Federal Census Bureau] estimates…that in the state of Virginia each person counted means the locality receives about $2,000 in funding a year. So if someone is not counted, that’s a potential loss of $20,000 over a decade.”
Fowler is heading the new Complete Count Committee for the city which is part of an initiative from the Census Bureau to create more participation in the census count.
The committee is comprised of nine residents who look at the various ways people can be more educated about and engaged with the census. The committee met for the first time in September and since then have discussed distributing information via water bills, at the library and other heavily-seen areas in the city.
“One of the things the committee is exploring is appearing at local events,” she said. “Potentially offer speakers and having the college get the word out.”
One of the ideas the committee is most excited about is the character and slogan that is designed to engage the community.
The slogan, “Count Williamsburg,” will be seen on stickers and fliers around the city paired with a character drawn similar to Count Dracula with a tricorn hat. Fowler said the committee is working on having a member dress as the count for the city’s annual Christmas Parade.
While that creative idea brings a fun aspect to the census, Fowler said it is still important to recognize the significance of counting every individual. According to data from the Census Bureau, only 76 percent of residents in Williamsburg participated in the 2010 census.
Part of what makes the count difficult in Williamsburg is that there are so many college students who might not realize they need to fill out the census for the area.
“Where you are living on April 1 is where you’re counted,” Fowler said. “If you’re a new born baby in the house or a college student on April 1, that’s where you should be counted.”
Fowler said there’s only one form per household, so if there is a group of individuals living together, such as a cluster of college students, then one person would count themselves as the “head of the household” and have the responsibility of making sure each person is counted.
Typically, some of the most-common missed demographics are children younger than 5, elderly individuals and students.
Fowler said the Census Bureau helps to make contact with populations that are harder to reach. The bureau will send a letter, then a post card and eventually come to an individual’s home in an effort to make sure people are counted.
The Census Bureau is encouraging residents to submit their information electronically in hopes of making it easier for people to participate, Fowler said. There will be services at the Williamsburg Regional Library and at the city’s voter registrar’s office to help.
Fowler said one of the most important aspects she wants people to learn about the census is that it’s completely confidential. Census employees take an oath not to reveal individual census information for at least 70 years.
As the census comes out in the spring, Fowler locals should also keep an eye out for job postings. There will be a representative from the Census Bureau from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 7 and from noon to 2 p.m. on Nov. 13 with information about job openings.
For more information, visit the 2020 census online.